New GOES-17 weather satellite has a cooling problem – may be ‘a loss’

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The nation’s newest weather satellite, launched less than three months ago, has a serious cooling problem that could affect the quality of its pictures.

The trouble is with the GOES-17 satellite’s premier instrument for taking images of hurricanes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions and other natural calamities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday. The imager’s infrared sensors aren’t getting properly cooled.

Experts are scrambling to understand what went wrong and how to fix it. Officials expect it will take at least a few months to figure out.

“As you can imagine, doing this remotely from 22,000 miles below only looking at the on-orbit data is a challenge,” said Steve Volz, head of NOAA’s satellite and information service.


Volz told reporters the trouble was discovered three weeks ago during the satellite’s routine checkout in orbit. The satellite was launched by NASA on March 1 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“This is a serious problem,” Volz said. The infrared channels “are important elements of our observing requirement, and if they are not functioning fully, it is a loss.”

The problem is with 13 of the 14 channels in the infrared and near infrared, which are meant to operate at around minus 350 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 200 degrees Celsius). The imager’s cooling system — which uses propolyne — is not maintaining that frigid temperature during the warmer part of each orbit, and so the channels aren’t working well about half the time.

Full story:’t-keep-cool,-could-hurt-photos

From the mission page:


The GOES-R Program is currently addressing a performance issue with the cooling system encountered during commissioning of the GOES-17 Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument. The cooling system is an integral part of the ABI and did not start up properly during the on-orbit checkout.

A team of experts from NOAA, NASA, the ABI contractor team and industry are investigating the issue and pursuing multiple courses of possible corrective actions. The issue affects the infrared and near-infrared channels on the instrument. The visible channels of the ABI are not impacted.

NOAA’s operational geostationary constellation — GOES-16, operating as GOES-East, GOES-15, operating as GOES-West and GOES-14, operating as the on-orbit spare — is healthy and monitoring weather across the nation each day, so there is no immediate impact from this performance issue.

If efforts to restore the cooling system are unsuccessful, alternative concepts and modes will be considered to maximize the operational utility of the ABI for NOAA’s National Weather Service and other customers. An update will be provided as new information becomes available.

I’m pretty sure somebody somewhere will figure out a way to blame ‘climate change’ for this. – Anthony

116 thoughts on “New GOES-17 weather satellite has a cooling problem – may be ‘a loss’

  1. Uses PROPOLYNE for cooling ?
    ” The imager’s cooling system — which uses propolyne — is not maintaining that frigid …..”

    • Propylene glycol? Sort of anti-freeze?
      Probably being chilled while out of the sun and used to absorb heat when in the sun…sort of heat exchanger…?

      • Operational temperature is ~73K based upon the article above. That means they are probably using something like a single stage split stirling cryo-engine to cool the focal plane array to that temperature. Since you have to pump the heat somewhere, you need a heat sink for it. When in the sun, they probably need the propylene glycol to move the heat from the heat bath to the radiators to expel it into space. If it is not operating properly, the heat sing get’s warmer than the max temperature that the cryoengine can handle. When that happens, the FPA temp creeps up. I’ve seen that in lots of systems.

      • CFCs are way better for cooling, but NASA doesn´t use those “because of reasons…”
        They lost the shuttles when they removed the CFCs, now they are starting losing weather satellites.

      • They better get the cooling technology fixed. The James Webb Telescope is going to depend on it.

      • GOES-16 uses an identical cooling system, and it has been and still is functioning well. This is an issue particular to this build.
        “The agency is still seeking to diagnose the exact problem, which seems to be a mechanical issue involving the ABI’s cooling pipes and radiator. Around midnight, at geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator, the sun peers “over the shoulder” of Earth and directly into the ABI’s camera. On GOES-16, the solar heat is passed through to liquid coolant, which transitions to a vapor and is then passed through a radiator to dissipate the heat into space. For some reason, this cooling is not happening with the newer satellite’s system.”
        It could be any number of system or component failures including not properly deploying the radiator panels.
        Rocket science is easy … rocket engineering is a b*tch!

      • @beng135
        I did the design for testing for the JWST system. The hardest problem is creating “outer space” on earth.
        It works as planned.
        If all else proceeds without issue, the system has the best chance we can give it of working.
        Yet even as has been shown with GOES-17’s balky cooling system (identical to GOES-16’s functional system)
        “‘There’s many a slip, between cup and lip.”

      • DonM May 24, 2018 at 11:09 am
        “should have just used an air cooling system … less moving parts.”
        The Russians did that with some of their early Glonass satellites. Weirdest thing I ever heard of. Sealed compartments with fans to move the air. It limited the life span (loss of air, failing fans), but it definitely worked. For a while.

  2. …I’m pretty sure somebody somewhere will figure out a way to blame ‘climate change’ for this. – Anthony…
    You took the words out of my mouth!
    Perhaps a Guardian Headline ” New satellite designed to measure Earth’s heat is already overloaded with high temperatures!!”….

    • You know I’ll bet we could design something to send trained astronauts up there to fix it without having to replace it. Maybe we could call it a “shuttle” or something. I wonder if NASA has ever thought of that?

      • There’s no way to get to GEOS because its in geosync orbit, about 22K miles up. The shuttle only got up to about 300 miles. Even if you could get there, the satellite wasn’t designed to be worked on in space.

      • Shuttle could never get anywhere near that satellite. The new launch system might be able to do it. I don’t know how long before that will be operational.

      • GOES is in a roughly 22,300+ mile high orbit; about 22,000 miles higher than Hubble Telescope that shuttle astronauts fixed.

    • Probably not a design problem per se. The satellite is supposed to be “identical” to GOES-16 which was launched in November 2016 and has been operating as intended. In any case, it’s far from a total loss. The visual light imaging works as do the many other sensors on the platform. A major concern is that there are two other “identical” satellites yet to be launched. It would be nice if they don’t exhibit this IR imaging problem.
      Think of it the way greens think of solar panels. So it only works in daylight, so what? It’s the spirit of the thing.

      • 1-If in doubt give it a clout.
        2 If at first you don’t succeed get a bigger hammer.
        James Bull

  3. What the hell is propolyne ?
    I’ve got a funny feeling the Associated Press writer meant to write propylene [glycol].

    • At those temperatures, they very well could mean propylene, not the glycol derivative. Propylene is a fairly common refrigerant in the chemical industry.

    • I’m not convinced by that . Propylene Glycol freezes at -59C, limiting its use as a coolant anywhere close to -200C. On the other hand Propylene (Propene) is liquid from -185C to -47C, which might make it useful as a working fluid for a cooling system in space. More info needed.
      The ISS uses Ammonia.

      • sonofametman
        There’s the solution right there. Propylene (Propene)…….Someone nicked it for their gas BBQ!
        Oh! Hang on, that’s propane………never mind.
        Dyslexic scientist perhaps?

    • The thermal system works by cycling a fluid named propylene between the ABI instrument and the radiator. link

      As far as I can tell, propylene is just barely able to cool at the required temperature. link In that regard, the story may be about the chosen working fluid (or not, I am not a heat pipe engineer).

  4. If the legacy media cannot blame climate change, they will blame the Trump administration (or both, the two are not mutually exclusive).

  5. What a pity the space shuttles are no longer in operation. This satellite could have been retrieved, repaired & redeployed.

    • You could build a brand new satellite and launch it for less that the cost of a Shuttle launch.

      • I’m pretty sure the GOES satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, which the Shuttle could not reach.

      • That is about 34000 Kilometers up, or geosynchronous orbit, and as Tom said, the suttle could not reach that orbit.

      • The Space Shuttle could not reach geosynchronous orbit on it’s own. The space station is about 230 miles above the Earth, and a space shuttle could go a little higher than that but not much. I believe the Hubble repair mission was the highest a space shuttle every flew.

      • The first shuttle, because of all the extra instrumentation built in, couldn’t even reach the space station.

    • GOES-17 is in a geostationary orbit at 35,000 km. I’m pretty sure that the Space Shuttle couldn’t have gotten into geostationary orbit. Maybe Elon Musk can come up with some sort of not too crazed scheme to retrieve the satellite, but it’s probably cheaper and certainly safer to build and launch another GOES. Cost of one more GOES-16 clone might be around $500m (before overruns) That’s not that much more than a space shuttle mission $450 (after overruns). But that’s really not a fair the space shuttle number includes a share of development costs.

    • “What a pity the space shuttles are no longer in operation. This satellite could have been retrieved, repaired & redeployed.”
      No. Not in a geostationary orbit.

  6. Probably propene used in heat pipes (passive device). Much like a heat sink with no movable parts.

    • Yes, it can’t be propylene glycol, which freezes at -59C. Propene was my first thought, but it melts at -185.2C and boils at -47.6C. Would be quite difficult to use it to cool below -150C… which may actually be the problem they are having.
      About the only thing they could use reliably would be liquid nitrogen. Helium would be great, but would pose a huge leak risk. Nitrogen is easier to contain.

      • Those numbers are correct for 1 atm of pressure. 22,000 miles above the Earth has considerably less pressure.

    • To RWTurner – The system is a closed system so the pressure can be set by either the expansion valve or the compressor, just like in your refrigerator or AC unit. Propane’s freezing point is two kelvins lower. My uncle invented a mixture of butenes that froze below the normal boiling temperature of liquid nitrogen (77 K) which would work even better. The LNG industry has several mixtures that freeze at lower temperatures that are used as refrigerants to condense the natural gas.

  7. How the hell do you expect anyone to focus on a cooling issue when they are all out in the back room HOMOGENIZING.

    • With all the practice they’ve had you would think it was easypeasy. /sarc I think without the cooler the cameras won’t work at all.

    • If it wasn’t designed to be maintained in space, trying to service it might cause more damage. And that’s assuming it’s even in an orbit that would be accessible to the Shuttle.

      • Yeah… Of course you’re right. And, apparently, I can’t read… because, of course, GOES 17 is in geosynchronous orbit.
        However, it’s still disheartening that the USA lacks the capability of fixing anything in any orbit anymore.

      • @MarkW
        The replacement of a satellite is not simply the launch costs. Many satellites are a decade in design and manufacture. Double that for government satellite programs. GOES 17 was 15 years in the planning already. That’s nearly an entire career’s worth of work for hundreds of people.

      • It doesn’t need to be redesigned. Most programs have spares and back up parts.
        Also they don’t need to replace the whole thing, just the IR portion. The rest of the current satellite is still working properly.

    • Clumsy, fragile, insanely complex, and, above all, a DANGEROUS launch system… read Richard Feynman’s report after the Challenger accident. The Shuttle was a NASA white elephant and I don’t miss it.

      • Nearly everything worthwhile that humans have done has been quite dangerous.
        Fix the problems… redesign the systems… improve the safety… but there’s no need to cancel the whole program. Doing so was reckless and left the USA in the beggars corner of the space age rather than the lead.

      • Feynman’s report is available at And it’s still worth reading.
        BTW, I’m not opposed to human space flight. When it makes sense. I’ll give Apollo a pass even though the actual science performed could have been done far more cheaply by machines. It was a sort of monument to progress … or something. Skylab made sense and was successful. But mostly what Skylab established is that there’s not much point in humans in space using late 20th Century/early 21st Century technology. The Space Shuttle never made much sense and neither does the quite expensive and more or less useless ISS.

      • You’re right Eusace … the original proposed shuttle was vastly better than what they wound up with. At some point, as they kept having to reduce capabilities due to limitations in the technology and materials available back then, they should have said “nice learning effort” and started over. Unfortunately, by that time the pork had been divvied up and the build program could not be stopped. If they had gone back to the drawing board back then, we would have had a much more capable and presumably cost effective version.

      • The Space Shuttle made a lot of sense, it was just never used properly.
        For cheap, quick space development, it was a perfect design. But the NASA administrator at the time wasn’t interested in cheap, quick space development.
        Instead of using two space shuttle launches to put a completed American space station in orbit, and spending about $5 billion, the NASA administrator thought it was a better idea to use dozens of shuttle launches, over a period of a decade to put a space station together and spend $30 billion doing it. He didn’t want “fast”, he wanted decades-long projects to administer.
        For the cost of the space station, NASA could have put human habitats around the Earth, Moon and Mars.
        Doing it the cheap way would utilize the space shuttle’s empty External Tank as the basis for all these habitats. The space shuttle was capable of taking the External Tank into orbit with it, whereas normally, the External Tank was jettisoned and allowed to fall back into the atmosphere where it would burn up. We burned up about 133 space shuttle External Tanks and didn’t use one of them for space development.
        Btw, the Skylab space station was constructed using a converted Saturn 5 fuel tank.
        NASA missed some good opportunities for really fast-tracking human space development. They had everything they needed in the way of equipment and money but they didn’t have a leader with vision.
        Now NASA is spending many more billions of dollars building a new heavy-lift launch vehicle that isn’t any more capable than the space shuttle launch system. The space shuttle launch system was capable of putting about 130 tons in Low Earth Orbit. This new generation launcher NASA is building will barely exceed that, if it does. Building this new launch vehicle was a complete waste of money. Anything it can do the Space Shuttle launch system could have done.
        But you can’t tell fools anything.

      • Eustace, I cannot really think of any system capable of launching something into space that is not dangerous. All rockets carry substantial quantities of propellants that should something not work properly or fail have the potential to go bang. I thought Space Shuttle was a remarkable project that proved capable of doing some impressive stuff, especially helping repair the Hubble telescope. It was of course extremely expensive, and in the case of the solid rocket boosters scary once thy were ignited. Allan J McDonald’s book ‘Truth, Lies and O-Rings’ details the story behind the loss of the Challenger, while the loss of the second vehicles owes something to misguided cost cutting when it came to coating the external tank. I cannot help but feel that one of the real difficulties today is the reluctance to accept risks to life, advances of the sort embodies in the Shuttle with its mistakes is part of human endeavour. By taking these chances it becomes possible to recognise what works and whether the risks we take produce something that makes it worthwhile.

      • Eustace,
        From about 2002 to 2010, I and several of my colleagues held discussions and collaborations with Lockheed, Orbital, and Boeing on manned space vehicles and we championed the blunt reentry capsule design, not necessarily a cone but similar designs. Not one of the other “winged” concepts could demonstrate a better cost performance or even better reentry landing performance.
        Interestingly the initial SOYUZ design and configuration was a direct rip-off of GE’s proposal to NASA in 1964 for the Apollo capsule and Systems module. The Russians have made some upgrades, but they don’t change what works.
        And … (shame on us) who’s system is still operational?
        BTW the SSTS (Space Shuttle Transportation System) couldn’t hope to make it out of LEO.
        And for those readers who would like to see the differences of earth orbital distances here is nice graphic:

      • Eustace Cranch May 24, 2018 at 6:17 am
        “Clumsy, fragile, insanely complex, and, above all, a DANGEROUS launch system… read Richard Feynman’s report after the Challenger accident. The Shuttle was a NASA white elephant and I don’t miss it.”
        We were forced to go to the shuttle after the Aliens threatened President Johnson that if we continued to send humans farther out away from our Planet they would take matters into there own hands and eliminate us.

  8. Apols in advance. An especially high concentration of carbonoxide molecules near my front doorstep caused me to trip over same and sprain an ankle. I iz Todayz Grump One
    Apart from prpoylnylyne , haha
    What other nearly kaput, expired or Dead Psittacines have we had out of The Good Ole US of A?
    Where to start..
    Silent Spring, Ozone, nuclear weapons, Challenger & Columbia, tobacco, Global Cooling, Global Warming, Hi Fructose Syrup, Coca-Cola, Windows Vista & Windows 10, Facebook, Nixon & Obama, iPhones (voted recently by some 6 & 7 year olds as THE thing they wished had never been invented), Roundup (indirectly through the legalised grief it’s now generating), Hollywood & Weinstein (Hollywood described by Antony Hopkins yesterday as ‘toxic & poisonous’), Twin Towers, Trash TV, jet aircraft that turn blue skies grey almost every day and everywhere, Canned Laughter & the sarc tag (just why are those things necessary?), the near complete misunderstanding of what ‘Free Love’ was about, AIDS, Ancel Keys (for his contributions of Obesity, Cardio Vascular Disease and diabetes) Tacoma Narrows, Feminism and the notion that being forced to work is a freedom, Skid Row, antibiotic resistance (just how much Virginiamycin is still fed to farm animals) and The Interwebz is looking increasingly shonky as it uses gobsmacking bandwidth to distribute ever more trash TV, unwanted/unavoidable advertising, privacy invasion, political chicanery, spam, Fake News, Ad-Hominisms, Big Willyism and general all round Faux.
    It’s a Catalogue of Disaster spiralling ever larger and deeper.
    And now, the cherry on the cherry, the chery ontop the cherry cake, Sputnik has died. The epitome of Brave New World and of the Hi Tech that is going to take us into an everlasting future of milk, honey, sweetness & light has failed. ha ha ha
    Now tell me something new. Go on, surprise me.
    Spellcheck Fails being the one little beacon of brightness – relentlessly spoiled by total and complete sense of humour fails. Add that to the list.
    You know its true. Check any dating agency/site/profile and all the girls are looking for a GSOH.
    Why of not because a Good Sense of Humour is now so rare and hard to find, apart from the self deprecation coming out of Hollywood and pumped up with fake laughter so you know where the jokes are supposed to be.
    It is very tired & old. Doesn’t work anymore. Fail
    (Is that why you pay so much for healthcare, Sense Of Humour Removals must be costly are they?)
    Letz see ya place one rock atop another and get them to stay there.
    Told ya I waz grumpy….

    • Peta – you are in a right state today. Why don’t you sit down, take a deep breath and have a nice cup of tea with 3 spoons of sugar. That should calm you down nicely. Or 4.

    • Your post reminds me of that old 80’s song, sorry I can’t recall the name of it, but the main chorus went “We didn’t start the fire – it’s only burning since the world’s been turning!”.

      • “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is by Billy Joel.
        Another suggestion:
        Cause and effect, chain of events,
        all of the chaos makes perfect sense,
        when we’re spinnin’ round,
        things come undone.
        Welcome to the earth, third rock from the sun.

        from the song Third Rock From The Sun, sung by Joe Diffie

    • They must have cut the cryo-chamber testing phase from the budget. Engineering for space environments is so well understood (Not!) that they figured it was safe to do so. Oops.

      • You clearly don’t know much about unionized labor. If it can be screwed up they can find 10 news ways to do it wrong AND block the firing of the idiots screwing everything up.

  9. Altitude correctly stated in article. I should have checked before opening big mouth. But it will collect the “right” data as it usually does.

    • At this high orbit the satellite is in the Earth’s shadow only rarely. Orbit radius 35,000 km, Earth’s radius 6,400 km.

  10. This will create a useful opportunity to ‘normalize’ any politically incorrect observations.

    • Actually, what appears to be “a loss” doesn’t mean a totally useless satellite.
      Visible working fine’
      The cooling for the IR sensors still enables great data to be gathered for all but a few portions of each orbit. So the satellite’s usefulness should only be affected over certain parts of the Earth at certain times. And those times will change
      Gums opines..

      • Assuming whatever is wrong with the cooling system doesn’t get worse.
        Then again, it might clear up on it’s own.

  11. One would have thought “the infinite coldness of interplanetary space” would suffice to keep the instruments cold enough. But even the ISS has a big cooling system. It seems it is only Earth that needs to be warmed by CO2.
    Btw, can anybody tell me how you calculate the blackbody temperature for Earth? Is Earth a blackbody?

  12. I think the problem may lie in all that radiation upwelling from those ice crystals forming in the Cirrus clouds nudging the Tropopause. They are relatively hot at a mere -50 C.
    Perhaps they forgot about that. After all that is how the Earth keeps itself cool, through the Rankine Cycle; but few appreciate that.

      • Ah yes – Agreed; but we are talking here about the radiation received by the satellite. OK lots from the sun but also some from this upwelling from the Earth which adds to the total. Just wondered if this had been taken into account in the design.
        If you are worried about this upwelling bear in mind the fact that the ice crystals are forming and growing which means that they are dissipating more energy to space than they are absorbing.
        This probably due to their high Albedo.

  13. Did they use propolyne because it’s more environmentally friendly? Everything has to be built ‘green’ now a days. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a PZEV sticker on the satellite to show everyone how environmentally conscious they are.

    • Well, I just read the previous post with the Wiki link to propolyne , it’s a…… wait for it…… A HydroCarbon! A byproduct of the petroleum industry..
      I’ll need to retract my previous ‘Green’ statement.. Bad gas….. Baaaaaaaaaad gas….

      • Yes. CFCs are banned so they use propene instead. Propene is approaching its freezing point, even near 0 pascals, at the desired operating temperature. The coolant choice leaves no room for error.

  14. “New GOES-17 weather satellite has a cooling problem – may be ‘a loss’” See it’s all because of global warming. /sarc

  15. Well I see no evidence that it wasn’t aliens.
    But could be a dent in the pipes or paint chip on the radiator (assuming it is painted with a special emissive paint), or tarnish, or Chinese manufactured coolant. Probably aliens.

  16. GOES-17 is a ‘no goes’?
    Space is an unforgiving environment and all human constructions have intrinsic defects. Given that GOES-17 is a duplicate of the fully operational on-orbit GOES-16, there is a high probability of a component manufacturing defect or a defect induced in assembly. To err is human….

  17. If only America had… I don’t know… like a shuttle or something they could send up to work on things…
    Maybe they can get the Russians to take a look?
    I wonder if it’s REALLY something wrong or just that the IR sensors aren’t showing global warming and so ‘must be malfunctioning’?

  18. Thought space was cold: 3 K or 5 K. Just leave the detectors on the back porch overnight.
    So what’s the problem?
    Oh, space at this orbital distance is 1,368 W/m^2, S-B BB 394 K/ 121 C/ 250 F.
    “So, what would the earth be like without an atmosphere?
    The average solar constant is 1,368 W/m^2 with an S-B BB temperature of 394 K or 21 C higher than the boiling point of water under sea level atmospheric pressure, which would no longer exist. The oceans would boil away removing the giga-tons of pressure that keeps the molten core in place. The molten core would push through the floor flooding the surface with dark magma changing both emissivity and albedo. With no atmosphere a steady rain of meteorites would pulverize the surface to dust same as the moon. The earth would be much like the moon with a similar albedo (0.12) and large swings in surface temperature from lit to dark sides. No clouds, no vegetation, no snow, no ice a completely different albedo, certainly not the current 30%. No molecules mean no convection, advection, conduction, latent energy and surface absorption/radiation would be anybody’s guess. Whatever the conditions of the earth would be without an atmosphere, it is most certainly NOT 240 W/m^2 and 255 K.
    The alleged 33 C difference is between a) an average surface temperature composed of thousands of WAGs that must be +/- entire degrees and b) a theoretical temperature calculation 100 km away that cannot even be measured and c) all with an intact and fully functioning atmosphere.”
    BTW notice that IR instruments measure TEMPERATURES by comparing to calibration sinks and sources and NOT power fluxes. Power fluxes, W/m^2, are INFERRED by ASSUMING BB 1.0 emissivity conditions which explains why the SurfRad IR power flux loops are complete trash.
    I made this comment/observation to Apogee, Kipp Zonen and Eppley and so far no objections.

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